By Brad Kallet
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The dust has settled.
The World Series ended a little less than a month ago, and it’s still hard to come to grips with the fact that the Mets didn’t win their first Fall Classic since 1986.
They went on a magical run that propelled them past the favored Dodgers and Cubs, but were exposed by a feisty, sound Royals team that made contact and put the ball in play. Though it would be foolish to argue that the Mets were the better team, the fact remains that the Amazins blew leads in every game.
Jeurys Familia blew a save in the ninth inning of Game 1, Daniel Murphy made a brutal error in the eighth inning of Game 4 and then there was Game 5. Oh, Game 5.
Matt Harvey’s walk in the ninth. The double. The errant throw from Lucas Duda.
The end of the line.
It was a remarkable season that no one saw coming, but the Mets had a great chance to win and they didn’t get the job done. It’s that simple. It was a letdown, and the pain won’t go away any time soon.
But the past is the past. It’s time to move on.
The offseason has just begun, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest from Mets fans. It’s understandable. For the first time in nine years, the Mets are coming off a season in which they nearly won it all. How can fans get excited about trades and free agents when the heartbreak of October is so fresh on their minds?
Normally the Mets are terrible, so the hot stove is fascinating. In fact, it’s the best time of year. Rumors upon rumors! New players! Old players leaving! Hope!
But right now the offseason is anticlimactic, and that’s OK. What it means is that the Mets are actually good, are actually contenders. For the first time in a long time, they don’t need to drastically alter their roster.
The Mets will be NL East favorites coming into the 2016 season, even though they’re expected to lose second baseman Daniel Murphy and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to free agency. The pitching should only improve. Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard will pitch full seasons, Harvey will be another five months removed from Tommy John surgery and Zack Wheeler will return to the rotation over the summer.
Offensively, Michael Conforto will open the season with the big club and David Wright should play a lot more than 38 games (fingers crossed). The Mets should also get more production out of Travis d’Arnaud, who missed 95 games due to injuries.
But there’s no question that without Murphy and Cespedes, this team won’t be as good. If they sign elsewhere, those two need to be replaced. As far as internal options go, 21-year-old Dilson Herrera has a ton of promise, but hasn’t proven anything in the majors. And if general manager Sandy Alderson doesn’t add a legit outfielder, Cespedes’ replacement will essentially be Juan Lagares. Lagares took a step back in 2015, and even if he reverts to form defensively, he’s not half the hitter that Cespedes is.
Alderson is not one to break the bank, though he is expected to have more money at his disposal this winter than in winters past. But don’t except him to sign more than one player to a long-term deal. Heck, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t sign any players to long-term deals.
In a perfect world, Alderson would sign Ben Zobrist and either Justin Upton or Jason Heyward to replace Murphy and Cespedes. Nobody is expecting Alderson to sign both Zobrist and one of these outfielders, though Zobrist is a realistic target.
But even if the Mets signed Zobrist and either Upton or Heyward, ask yourself this question: Is a combination of Zobrist/Heyward or Zobrist/Upton that much better than Murphy/Cespedes?
It’s better, but not by a huge margin.
The point is that this team is already very good. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s not as if this club is one and done and now the organization has to start over. Barring something completely out of left field, the pieces are in place, and no one player that Alderson can sign or trade for will take the Mets to new heights. Whatever happens in the brutal months leading up to opening day won’t change the fact that the Amazins will be World Series contenders again in 2016.
No, offseasons aren’t as much fun when the team is competitive and one of the best in baseball, but that’s a good thing. The foundation has been built, and it should lead to a lot more winning in the years to come.
Can we just fast forward to March and get the season started already? There’s unfinished business to attend to.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.